The Meddler (2015)
A quarter of a century ago, Susan Sarandon co-starred in Thelma & Louise (1991), still ranked one of the best feminist movies of all time. It sits in the pantheon of cinema greats because of how it combined the finest traditions of storytelling and movie making with powerful messages about important social issues. Since then, Sarandon’s name has been associated with a string of high production-value movies and great entertainment. In this context of high expectations, The Meddler (2016) is a disappointingly mediocre story about an irritating mother who farcically acts-out suppressed grief trauma following her husband’s death three years earlier.
Marnie (Susan Sarandon) is a widow desperately wanting to be relevant in other people’s lives to avoid dealing with her own. Her husband left her financially comfortable and she likes spending money on others, whether it’s a bag of bagels or paying for the entire wedding of someone she barely knows. Her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne) has relationship issues of her own and welcomes her meddling mother like a blowfly on a summer day. If that sounds like a thin storyline, several comic sketches flesh it out: like Marnie’s serial visits to that helpful guy in the Apple Store; being “earth mother” for a lesbian couple’s wedding; deciding what to do with her husband’s ashes; and the teen-awkward steps towards starting a relationship with an ex-cop called Zipper. The ‘world’s most embarrassing mother’ theme is squeezed for all its worth, but the endless texting, unanswered messages, and unannounced drop-ins are more wearying for viewers than for this mother-daughter duo. While buried grief lies somewhere in the deeper layers of this film, it is largely ignored or at best explored with casual superficiality.
Sarandon’s acting repertoire means she can handle anything from slapstick to pathos, but she can only work with what she is given. It is a weak script, full of clichéd melodrama, tired gags, and feigned sentimentality. She is on-screen for most of the movie, staying in character as a constantly irritating person who is painfully lacking in self-awareness, or just not particularly bright. If it was directed as a serious drama, the central premise of the story might have led to a satisfying movie. But as a corny comedy, it denigrates the seriousness of its deeper themes and is more squirm-in-your-seat embarrassing than laugh-out-loud kind of funny. While this conclusion may rub against the critical grain, it comes from someone who still has Sarandon on a pedestal.
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Stars: Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J. K. Simmons